Does Ajinkya Rahane deserve a place in the Indian Test team?
- Is Rahane's selection in the Test team justified with his patchy form overseas
Ajinkya Rahane has a problem. His strength - of being able to score tough overseas runs has deserted him. The big hundreds are not coming from his blade and unlike before, swing bowling is bothering him. He is throwing away his decent starts and it is hurting his game.
Since 2013, the right handed middle order batsman has scored 4203 Test runs in 109 innings at an average of 42.89 with 11 centuries and 22 half centuries. In the recently concluded Test series against New Zealand, the Indian vice-captain struggled to get going and could score only 91 runs at an average of 22.75. Of late, Rahane has failed to score big runs when India tour abroad especially in Australia, England, and South Africa in the last couple of years. The Indian vice-captain was left out of the first two Tests when India toured South Africa for a 3-match Test series in early 2018 due to his indifferent form. He could score just 9 and 48 in two innings of the only Test he played in the series.
India's next overseas assignment was a 5-match Test series against England. India were comprehensively beaten in by a margin of 4-1. Rahane, who had played well in English conditions in 2014, was expected to anchor the Indian middle-order. However, he could score only 257 runs in 10 Test innings at an average of 25.70 with a highest score of 81.
India created history in 2018-19 by beating Australia in a Test series for the first time on their own soil. Rahane in that series scored only 217 runs in 7 innings in the Test series at an average of 31 and a top score of 71. He failed to convert any of his starts to a big hundred.
Rahane thus averages 28.50, 25.70, 31.00 and 22.75 on his last tours of South Africa, England, Australia, and New Zealand which indeed is a cause of concern for India. Rahane with his experience is expected to score big runs in the middle-order, however he has struggled to score runs in conditions where the pitch favours the bowlers.
The middle order batsman has scored runs on a consistent basis in home conditions as well as in West Indies. In 2019, he averaged 72 in a 3-match Test series against South Africa and 68.50 in a 2-match Test series against Bangladesh. He had a successful tour of West Indies too in 2019 and scored 271 runs at an average of 90.33. However, he has failed to replicate these perfromances in countries like South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand (SENA) where the ball swings, seams and moves more than in India and West Indies. In the previous touring cycle in the same countries, he was actually a standout performer.
So is Rahane's place in the Test team justified when he has failed in SENA nations? He has failed to score big in 12 Tests in SENA nations in the last couple of years. The Indian Test team has given chances to two young openers in Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal to open the batting and apart from the New Zealand series, the duo have been impressive.
Rohit Sharma has made an incredible comeback to the India Test team in 2019 and it will be difficult for the team management to leave him out of the playing 11. The likes of KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer have done well for the national team in limited overs cricket and have scored consistently in domestic cricket too and will be expecting a call to the Test team soon. Shubman Gill has made considerable progress on India A tours and will be knocking the doors of the selection committee in the near future.
If Rahane fails to score consistently when India tours overseas, it will be difficult for him to retain his place in the playing 11. The youngsters will be in competition with Rahane for the number 5 position in the middle-order.
India next plays a Test series in Australia in December 2020 which is still about 9 months away and Rahane will have to really work on his game to rectify flaws in his batting. The Australian tour will be the acid test for the Mumbai batsman and if he fails to score big runs again Down Under, the time is not far when he will be dropped from the India Test team.
Published 15 Mar 2020, 13:17 IST